U.S. Magazine Emphasizes Cuba’s Advances in Health Sector

WASHINGTON — Science magazine praised the advances Cuba has made in the health care sector despite the effects of the U.S. embargo, which was imposed almost 50 years ago, on the communist island.

In an article in its Policy Forum section, the magazine, one of the most prestigious U.S. scientific publications, says that Cuban progress in the health care field is superior to that of other Latin American countries and compares only with the developed nations.

It adds that at a time when the United States is debating whether and how to reform its health care system it could be advantageous to draw lessons from what Cuba has done in the sector to date.

The embargo was imposed by the United States in 1962 with the aim of achieving the return of democracy to the island after the fall of the Fulgencio Batista regime and the rise of the communist government under Fidel Castro.

However, a 2009 U.S. Senate report said that the embargo has not achieved its stated goal and, given that international support for it — never strong — is weakening further, many politicians and businessmen are suggesting a change in the country’s Cuba policy.

The article, authored by professors Paul Drain and Michele Barry of the Stanford University School of Medicine, says that the embargo has had a major impact on Cuba’s financial and economic system and on the availability of medical supplies.

Yet, those negative effects seem to have been ameliorated by the successes that Cuba has achieved in other parts of the health care sector, the magazine says.

“Cuba has done a fantastic job regarding primary and preventive care, and even moreso if one takes into account that it has done it with a modest budget,” Drain told Efe.

To support their arguments and assertions, Drain and Barry say that among 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries, Cuba has the longest life expectancy: 78.6 years.

In addition, the island has the highest number of physicians per capita — 59 per 10,000 people — and the lowest infant mortality rate, 5 per 1,000 live births.

In 2006, the Cuban government spent $355 per capita on health care, equivalent to 7.1 percent of the gross domestic product.

Comparatively, the annual cost of health care for each American averages $6,714, representing 15.3 percent of GDP, say the article’s authors.

Meanwhile, Cuba has one of the best preventive health care systems in the world.

By educating its population about the prevention of diseases and the promotion of health, Cubans have to depend less on medical products and supplies to maintain a healthy population, the article says.

The opposite is occurring in the United States, a country which depends heavily on medications and new technologies to keep its population healthy, “but at a very high cost.”

The article also emphasizes the existence in Cuba of a modern network of health clinics, the high rate of vaccination against disease and the duty of each Cuban to have a medical checkup at least once a year in accord with the national policy of preventing illness.

Drain and Barry suggest that at present, when the United States is seeking support for reforming its health care system, there may be opportunities to learn valuable lessons from Cuba about how to develop a health care system that places great emphasis on prevention.

The authors say that the U.S. Congress should request a study by the National Academy of Science about the successes of the Cuban health care system and regarding the best way to begin a “new era of cooperation” between U.S. and Cuban scientists.

Originally published at Latin American Herald Tribune — www.laht.com.